Why We Feel Shame & How to Conquer It

“Ugh, I can’t believe I did that! I’m so dumb!”

If you’ve ever said something like that about yourself, you were probably feeling shame. Shame is something we all experience. Sometimes we feel it briefly and it leaves us like an unpleasant thought. Other times it stays, creeping inside our minds until it distorts both our perceptions of the world and how we believe the world perceives us. This article will cover why we feel shame and how to conquer it.

What is shame? Basically shame comes from a perception that our actions are deficient in light of certain standards, and consequently we extend this perception to ourselves. It is important to acknowledge feelings of shame and develop strategies for managing it.

Coping with Shame

Let’s be clear: shame is a normal and common human emotion. No one should ever think something is wrong with them for feeling shame. But occasionally shame can overwhelm and cause us to act in ways we normally wouldn’t.

Typical reactions to shame include: withdrawal, aggression, and approval seeking behavior.

One psychologist even found that “shame can be experienced as such a negative, intense emotion of self-loathing that it can lead one to disown it, and, in the case of one who acts like a bully, give it away by evoking that emotion in others.” In this case, the person feeling shame makes others feel shame as well to make themselves feel better.

These reactions are learned defenses that we’ve developed to cope with shame. At the core of these defenses is a fight-or-flight instinct to separate us from others or ourselves and ultimately the cause of our shame. This eventually leads to emotional isolation and even deeper feelings of shame. Fortunately, there is a better way to deal with these feelings.

Try Shame Reslience!

While there is no antidote to feeling shame, there are ways of managing it. Brené Brown found during her shame research that actually acknowledging it and having empathy for yourself could help reduce the effects of shame. Instead of continuing with shame defenses that just isolate us further, we can instead connect with ourselves to overcome shame.

This technique is called Shame Resilience. It involves using empathetic practices to overcome shame. Essentially, this means being vulnerable enough to share with someone you trust what you’re feeling instead of keeping it a secret. More importantly, it involves changing how you to talk to yourself.

Shame feeds off of negative self-talk and secrecy. By speaking more kindly about yourself and sharing your story, shame has less places to lurk.

If you’d like to read more about shame resiliency, this article gives an excellent overview of Shame Resilience Therapy and how it developed. Also, watch this video for some quick tips from Brené Brown on how to work through shame.


If you’re in the Chicago area and interested in therapy services, you can learn more about starting here. Or if you’re ready to get started, reach out to us and schedule an appointment.